A special workshop OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
March 31, 2015
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special workshop session on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 9:00 a.m., in the Emergency Operations Center, Training Room A, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were Jimmy Conner, Chairman; Sean Parks, Vice Chairman; Timothy I. Sullivan; and Welton G. Cadwell. Leslie Campione was present via conference call. Others present were David Heath, County Manager; Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney; and Victoria Bartley, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Conner welcomed everyone to the workshop and explained that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the reauthorization of the Infrastructure Sales Tax.
Mr. David Heath, County Manager, gave a summary of the January BCC retreat where a consensus was reached that the Board wished to move forward with reauthorizing the sales tax and that the existing distribution of revenues among the Lake County BCC, Lake County School Board, and the municipalities be maintained.
Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney, explained that the County may levy a discretionary sales surtax of 0.5 percent or 1 percent as authorized by Florida Statute Section 212.055 pursuant to an ordinance enacted by the BCC and approved by a majority of the electors of the county voting in referendum. He pointed out that the statute is very specific on the approved uses for the money. He mentioned that the County had originally adopted County Ordinance No. 2001-123 on September 18, 1987 from 1988 to 2002 and authorized the extension of the Infrastructure Sales Tax for fifteen years from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2017. He relayed that the County had an interlocal agreement that was entered into between the Lake County BCC, the School Board, and the cities representing the majority of the municipal population so that it is distributed equally among the groups. He displayed on the monitor a copy of the original ballot referendum language which listed the projects eligible for funding should Lake County Ordinance No. 2001-123 extending the existing one-cent countywide infrastructure sales surtax for fifteen years be approved. He presented the construction, renovation, and remodeling of city, county and school facilities; roads and transportation; utilities, drainage, improvements, stormwater retrofit; public safety facilities and equipment; libraries, parks, and recreation; and other city, county, and school infrastructure as possible projects. He reported that the ordinance also determined that the Board’s proceeds would be divided 50 percent for transportation purposes and the other 50 percent for other purposes allowed by the statute. He also noted that the ordinance set up a citizen committee to monitor expenditure of the sales tax proceeds for the last fifteen years. He specified that the extension of the infrastructure sales tax requires the approval of the electors and an interlocal agreement for the proceeds to be distributed to the cities and the County only based upon the state sales tax formula. He relayed that per the Board’s earlier discussion, a draft of the agreement had been prepared and sent to the School Board and cities that is virtually identical to the one used in 2003. He reported that the date options for the approval of electors included the municipal elections scheduled in November 2015, the presidential primary in March 2016, the primary and general election in August or November 2016, or a mail ballot, but mentioned that it has never utilized in Lake County in the past. He explained that the legal requirements for the election include the approval of the county ordinance, and interlocal agreement if desired, and a 45 day notice of publication. He commented that the practical requirements for the election included allotting adequate time for the Supervisor of Elections to prepare, the need to procure precinct locations, and train all poll workers. He specified that if November 2015 is chosen then June will be the latest decision point, but it will be better if it can be decided earlier.
Mr. Steve Koontz gave a presentation on the use of the sales tax revenue and displayed on the monitor a graph of what the sales tax has generated each year since 2008. He elaborated that previously Lake County’s proceeds had been expended 50 percent on transportation uses which included road construction projects like widening, resurfacing of roads, sidewalk construction, and heavy equipment and 50 percent for other county infrastructure such as capital funding for parks, Public Safety (800MHZ radio system, Sheriff vehicles, Lake EMS ambulances), construction or acquisition of new facilities, and renovation or expansion of existing facilities. He commented that some sales tax funded projects from the past fifteen years included an Animal Services expansion, renovation to the Historic Courthouse, the Cagan Crossings Community Library, the Cooper Memorial Library, the PEAR Park entrance, the Picciola Bridge replacement, the CR-439 widening and resurfacing, the paving of Keene Road, and the purchase of new voting machines.
Mr. Heath pointed out that legislature had passed several statutes since the previous authorization by Lake County voters, and they needed to keep them in mind when moving forward. He explained that F.S. 106.113 stated that a local government or a person acting on behalf of local government may not expend or authorize the expenditure of, and a person or group may not accept, public funds for a political advertisement or electioneering communication concerning an issue, referendum, or amendment. He specified that this does not prohibit the providing of factual information or preclude an elected official from expressing an opinion on any issue at any time. He reminded the Board that the Sunshine Law requirement applies to any community meeting where two or more Commissioners attend and participate, so in order to use resources wisely and not overburden the recording staff, it had been suggested that the information meetings be distributed by districts in order to avoid the necessity of a Sunshine Meeting.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that no information had been sent out to the voters the previous time, but it had been posted on the County website.
Commr. Conner commented that no public money would be spent and that Commr. Sullivan’s organization will be promoting the referendum. He relayed that the Board would not promote the referendum and subject themselves to criticism by using public funds to provide factual information.
Mr. Heath related that the discussion points that needed to be discussed to keep the process moving forward were the timing and method of distribution of the referendum, the interlocal agreement and if they Board will allow them to formally touch base with the cities, whether the use of funds should remain as a 50/50 split, and the aspect of community outreach. He pointed out that they needed to keep in mind that a certain amount of funds was needed for facilities and technical concerns that will need to be addressed. He commented that staff was looking for direction on how the Board wanted them to propose it and that he had spoken with Commr. Sullivan about possibly creating a five year list of projects to present to voters and then use the list of ballot items to guide expenditures in the subsequent ten years. He relayed that he had put together a staff group to come up with projects in each discipline. He explained that he wanted the Board to discuss what the revenue would be used for and if the County should have any involvement in communicating with the citizens about utilizing the sales tax revenue.
Commr. Sullivan opined that the sooner the referendum was done the better, but they must keep in mind what the cost would be. He pointed out that some of the advantages of having it on the November 2015 ballot would be that there are a few municipality elections where the polls would be open anyway, that it would give them time to market the referendum and inform the public about the reasons for it, and if the reaction is not positive then they have another year to attempt to modify it.
Commr. Parks concurred that the November 2015 date should be used, but pointed out that if they went forward with that date, then unincorporated Lake County would be voting only on this issue as they would not be having any general elections. He clarified that a mail ballot cannot be used for just one specific area.
Commr. Cadwell, Commr. Conner, and Commr. Campione agreed with the November date as well.
Commr. Conner submitted for the record that the Board was in unanimous agreement that the Infrastructure Sales Tax should appear on the November 2015 ballot.
Mr. Heath confirmed that the Board granted permission for staff to go forward with the interlocal agreement as it stands, with the revenue being split 1/3 to the Board, 1/3 to the School Board, and 1/3 to the cities.
Mr. Minkoff pointed out that the interlocal agreement had language that if the School Board elected to do their own sales tax, then their share would terminate and that the draft they prepared had retained that language as well.
Commr. Conner opined that keeping that language would help it pass and that sidewalks needed to be mentioned specifically on the ballot referendum with Roads and Transportation. He commented that the priority of the referendum should be Public Safety because the county had a significant need for patrol cars, ambulances, and firetrucks.
Commr. Sullivan remarked that Public Safety should be higher on the list, but cautioned against limiting themselves as policy makers to one specific objective. He put forward that trails should be included in the referendum language as well under Libraries/Parks and Recreation.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that the primary categories should be Public Safety; Roads, Sidewalks, and Transportation; and Libraries/Parks, Trails, and Recreation, deferring to staff on what the priority order should be.
Commr. Campione got consensus from the Board that the Utilities/Drainage Improvements/Stormwater Retrofit category should be listed under Water Quality.
Commr. Sullivan commented that the referendum simply needed to be worded to ease public understanding and should not be overly specific, but remain more general. He noted that as policy-makers, they need to have the ability to prioritize the projects when the revenue fluctuates.
Mr. Minkoff clarified that if they mentioned sidewalks in the ordinance, they would be bound to set aside funds just for that.
Commr. Connor opined that they should remain flexible with the ordinance and that they should not put 50 percent of all money toward any one category. He indicated that a five-year plan would be beneficial and that Commr. Sullivan and staff would determine how the public wants the projects to be prioritized, but the ordinance language should not be that specific.
Commr. Campione inquired if a five-year plan could become a separate interlocal agreement.
Mr. Minkoff replied that it would be possible to add the plan to the agreement for the division of the money, but expressed his concerns about trying to get representatives of the majority of cities, the School Board, and the BCC together before May. He noted that a separate interlocal agreement would not be as binding.
Commr. Cadwell commented that sidewalks are a contentious issue, but did not wish the Board to be tied down to one issue considering that not all cities have that same problem and that the issued stemmed mostly from just one specific incident.
Mr. Heath put forward that a five-year plan is something that the voters can relate to and understand.
Commr. Sullivan remarked that they should remain flexible and do away with percentage language in the ordinance so that they do not miss out on certain projects because they were too specific.
Commr. Cadwell observed that the projects should be decided on a case-by-case basis with the total amount of the revenue and that this should be an ordinance issue, not ballot language.
Commr. Parks opined that sidewalks should be included in the ballot language because of its specificity.
Commr. Conner relayed that they did not want to confuse the issue and make it seem as if the revenue would be used solely for sidewalks due to the high value amount it would take to address them.
Commr. Parks pointed out that they could create an agreement after the referendum passes with the cities and the school to direct funds over either the short term or a five-year plan for sidewalks. He put forward that it could perhaps be put directly toward Safe Routes To School, a national and international program to create safe opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools.
Commr. Cadwell mentioned that when they begin the actual work on the sidewalks, they are going to need a maintenance cost and expected life span done for every project, since cement sidewalks are so expensive to maintain.
Commr. Campione inquired about other alternatives to concrete sidewalks.
Mr. Jim Stivender, Public Works, explained that they tend to stay away from asphalt due to its effect on the surroundings and the fact that it wears out faster than concrete.
Commr. Conner opined that they needed more staff input and a presentation on the five-year plan so that they have clear-cut data before making any decisions. He commented that staff might need to research what the County’s most central needs are so that they can explain to the citizens why something is needed, particularly since the incoming revenues are so much lower than they have been in the past and the County had not been able to buy certain things over the past few years that they have needed.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that once they have decided what is important to include and what language to use, Mr. Heath would then be able to create the referendum.
Mr. Heath suggested that he and staff prepare a list of projects under each category to present the Board with what they can realistically build in the first five years based on revenue projections.
Commr. Cadwell remarked that they can be specific, but should try not to have one particular item or project define the vote.
Mr. Koontz reiterated that they had a broad range of projects that could be listed under the proposed categories.
Mr. Minkoff clarified that there was a consensus on the Board that there be no percentages in the ordinance, only a list of projects.
Commr. Parks relayed that a recommendation from the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee was to keep the allocation for transportation.
Commr. Sullivan commented that the School Board and municipalities were willing to attend community meetings in order to reach the public as they have done in the past and opined that the real campaign occurs in the 60 days before the election.
Mr. Minkoff reiterated that they had previously done this by districts in order to avoid any issues with the Sunshine Law requirements and avoid too many instances where there are multiple commissioners at the same meeting, thus necessitating minutes to be taken.
Mr. Heath reported that he would present the Board with a formal agenda item at either an end of April or beginning of May meeting of the ballot language and interlocal agreement, as well as draft the list of projects for each of the categories for the five-year plan. He mentioned that rather than getting overly specific with hundreds of individual projects for sidewalks, they commit the quantity of work to be done in the first five years.
Mr. Stivender confirmed that the signs for the old penny sales projects were still up and in good condition.
Mr. Minkoff clarified that the signs may not be permissible under the current statute, as they might be considered to be advocacy.
Commr. Conner pointed out that the signs would not gain a significant amount of votes, and it would be better to avoid controversy as they did in the previous years.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 10:15 a.m.
jimmy conner, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK